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Russell Steinberg talks NCAA Tournament seeding, location, best/worse-case scenarios, and more

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As the Big Ten Tournament begins, we had one more talk with the expert to look ahead to Northwestern’s future.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 13 Women’s Northwestern at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Big Ten Tournament is underway, and #11 Northwestern women’s basketball (26-3, 16-2) gets postseason play going in Friday’s quarterfinal against the winner of today’s matchup between Michigan and Nebraska.

With Selection Monday fast approaching and only a few games left to make an impact, we talked to High Post Hoops’ resident bracketologist Russell Steinberg (again) about where Wildcat fans can expect to go, how much room for improvement or decline is left when it comes to seeding, and beyond:

INU: You have had Northwestern as the last #2 seed, just in front of UCLA, for a while; as we found out on Monday, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee has the Wildcats as the top #3 seed, just behind UCLA. Where’s the disconnect stemming from, and what more does Northwestern need to do to pass the Bruins in the eyes of the committee?

RS: I actually used my last full bracket to address this fully. I really don’t understand how you can justify putting UCLA ahead of Northwestern at this point, and that’s no disrespect to the Bruins whatsoever. Northwestern just has:

  • A better record
  • Better RPI
  • Better SOS
  • Better losses
  • More wins vs. the RPI top 50
  • And both teams’ best wins are roughly on par with each other (Northwestern vs. Maryland, UCLA at Stanford)

Because I can’t understand why Northwestern isn’t a 2 seed already, I’m not sure what more it could do. I guess beat Maryland again in the Big Ten Tournament? A win over Iowa might do it as well, as it would also be a top 15-ish RPI win. I’m not sure any other team in the conference would move the needle enough, particularly if UCLA has shots against Oregon State, Oregon, and Stanford.

INU: Given a perfect run in the Big Ten Tournament (beat Michigan for the third time in the quarterfinals, erase their earlier loss to Iowa in the semis, take the season series and a conference championship from Maryland in the finals), does Northwestern have any prayer of replacing the Terrapins on the 1-line? Put another way: just how far can the Wildcats climb, and would any ascension among the ranks of the #2 seeds (from 8th to 5th, e.g.) actually help them in any meaningful way?

RS: I’ve been bullish on Northwestern all year, but let’s not get carried away. South Carolina, Baylor, and Oregon are all locked into 1 seeds, leaving just one spot left. I can see Northwestern jumping UCLA, but it’d also have to jump Stanford (meaning both would have to take bad losses in the Pac-12 Tournament), UConn, and Louisville to even be the next-one-up next to Maryland.

Unfortunately, one bad loss doesn’t sink a team quite enough to make that much of a difference. As far as which No. 2 seed would benefit Northwestern the most, it’s too hard to say. It depends on where Maryland is (more on that below) and the restrictions having so many Pac-12 teams in the top 8 put on seeding.

INU: Looking at the reverse, after a semi-embarrassing Friday exit, given as many bad breaks as possible when it comes to the fortunes of comparable teams, how far can Northwestern fall? Is a #4 seed still a realistic possibility? What about a #5?

RS: They’re definitely not falling below a 4 seed and probably not falling below a 3. The absolute worst-case scenario at this point is a loss to Nebraska, a solid WNIT team. It’d be their worst loss of the season, and it’s still against a top-100 team. In order to fall behind NC State, Mississippi State, Gonzaga, and Iowa, all three would have to win their conference tournaments, which just isn’t going to happen.

INU: Assuming the Wildcats do end up hosting, if they manage to reach the Sweet 16, where should NU fans expect to travel? Fort Wayne seems unlikely as long as Maryland holds down a #1, but which of the other three destinations seems most likely and what plays into that relative likelihood?

RS: Fort Wayne is unlikely, only because Maryland could fall to a 2 seed and still end up there. For those unfamiliar with the process, teams from the same conference cannot be in the same region if they are on the 1, 2, 3, or 4 seed lines (unless, like the Pac-12, there are five such teams occupying those spots).

If Northwestern stays as the best 3 seed, it will get the first crack at any of the three other regions (Dallas, Portland, and Greenville). Greenville is the next-closest site, so that’s where the Wildcats would go. If they move up to the back-end of the 2 line, you’ll probably see them head to Portland.